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Archive for April 2010

Fraudonomics- The big dirty secret of fraud crackdown

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When you use the Mafia as a business model, this result should be no surprise.

The big dirty secret of why you should worry about a fraud crackdown more than Goldman Sachs—revealed for the first time by an anonymous private equity ‘hypocrite’ and ‘liar.’

By Mark Ames

NYPress.com April 28, 2010

There was a strange moment last week during President Obama’s speech at Cooper Union. There he was, groveling before a cast of Wall Street villains including Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein, begging them to “Look into your heart!” like John Turturro’s character in Miller’s Crossing…when out of the blue, the POTUS dropped this bombshell: “The only people who ought to fear the kind of oversight and transparency that we’re proposing are those whose conduct will fail this scrutiny.”

The Big Secret, of course, is that every living creature within a 100-mile radius of Cooper Union would fail “this scrutiny”—or that scrutiny, or any scrutiny, period. Not just in a 100-mile radius, but wherever there are still signs of economic life beating in these 50 United States, the mere whiff of scrutiny would work like nerve gas on what’s left of the economy. Because in the 21st century, fraud is as American as baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet Volts—fraud’s all we got left, Doc. Scare off the fraud with Obama’s “scrutiny,” and the entire pyramid scheme collapses in a heap of smoldering savings accounts.

That’s how an acquaintance of mine, a partner in a private equity firm, put it: “Whoever pops this fraud bubble is going to have to escape on the next flight out, faster than the Bin Laden Bunch fled Kentucky in their chartered jets after 9/11.”

And that’s why this SEC suit accusing Goldman Sachs of fraud is really just a negotiating bluff to give Obama’s people some leverage—or it’s supposed to be, anyway—according to the PE guy. He dismissed all the speculation that the fraud investigations would turn on other obvious villains like Deutsche, Merrill, Paulson & Co., the Rahm Emmanuel-linked Magnetar and so on.

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Banks Bailed Out By American Taxpayers- Paying Us Back By Shorting Our States and Cities

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by Washington’s Blog Global Research, April 29, 2010

Americans bailed out the giant banks. So how do the too big to fails re-pay the American taxpayers?

By betting that American states and cities will fail.

As the Wall Street Journal notes:

As U.S. cities and towns wrestle with financial problems, investors are finding a new way to profit on their misery: by buying derivatives that essentially bet municipalities will default.

These so-called credit default swaps are basically insurance contracts that have long been available to protect holders of corporate bonds against default. They became available a few years ago for municipal debt, allowing investors to short sell—or bet against—countless cities, towns and bridges, and more than a dozen states, including California, Michigan and New York.

The derivatives are still thinly traded, but their existence has the potential to make investors skittish.

Commenting on the story, Huffington Post points out:

Offered by banks like JP Morgan, Bank of America, and Citigroup, the so-called municipal credit default swaps can be used by investors to bet that insurance contracts protecting holders of municipal bonds will default.

Some states say the derivatives not only scare away potential buyers of municipal bonds by creating a perception of risk, but ultimately drive up states’ borrowing costs. Others contend that the instruments are traded too thinly to affect municipal bond markets or a state’s credit rating.

The California treasurer is just one of a number of state treasurers that have launched a probe into the sale of these derivatives and the sale of municipal bonds by big Wall Street firms that might reveal “speculative abuse of CDS in the muni market,” says one regulator.

Of course, if states or cities go bust, Uncle Sugar will need to bail them out.

So by letting the bailed out gamblers on Wall Street run amok, Summers, Geithner, Bernanke and the gang are increasing the odds that the states and cities of America – you know, the actual constituent parts which make up the United States – will need to be bailed out.

Of course, bailing out the states and cities in the first place would have given more bang for the buck than throwing money at the giant banks, especially given that the Federal Reserve has intentionally created incentives to ensure that banks will not loan out money back into the economy.

Are Prozac and Other Psychiatric Drugs Causing the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America?

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AlterNet By Bruce E. Levine

An interview with investigative reporter Robert Whitaker, about the dramatic increase in mental illness disability and its surprising cause.

April 28, 2010

In 1987, prior to Prozac hitting the market and the current ubiquitous use of antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs, the U.S. mental illness disability rate was 1 in every 184 Americans, but by 2007 the mental illness disability rate had more than doubled to 1 in every 76 Americans. Robert Whitaker was curious as to what was causing this dramatic increase in mental illness disability. The answers are in his new book, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America (Crown Publishers, April 2010).

Whitaker’s findings will create a problem for both Big Pharma and establishment psychiatry, but his credentials and his craftsmanship will make it difficult to marginalize him. Whitaker is the author of four books including Mad in America, about the mistreatment of the mentally ill. As a reporter for the Boston Globe, he won a George Polk Award for medical writing, a National Association of Science Writers Award for best magazine article, and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.

Bruce Levine: So mental illness disability rates have doubled since 1987 and increased six-fold since 1955. And at the same time, psychiatric drug use greatly increased in the 1950s and 1960s, then skyrocketed after 1988 when Prozac hit the market, so now antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs alone gross more than $25 billion annually in the U.S. But as you know, correlation isn’t causation. What makes you feel that the increase in psychiatric drug use is a big part of the reason for the increase in mental illness?

Robert Whitaker: The rise in the disability rate due to mental illness is simply the starting point for the book. The disability numbers don’t prove anything, but, given that this astonishing increase has occurred in lockstep with our society’s increased use of psychiatric medications, the numbers do raise an obvious question. Could our drug-based paradigm of care, for some unforeseen reason, be fueling the increase in disability rates? And in order to investigate that question, you need to look at two things. First, do psychiatric medications alter the long-term course of mental disorders for the better, or for the worse? Do they increase the likelihood that a person will be able to function well over the long-term, or do they increase the likelihood that a person will end up on disability?

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Why Facts No Longer Matter

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by Anne Landman   April 28, 2010   PRWatch.org

A recent PRWatch blog discussed how corporations are increasingly turning to cause marketing to get around people’s ability to tune out their daily deluge of advertising. Cause marketing, or “affinity marketing,” is a sophisticated PR strategy in which a corporation allies itself with a cause that evokes strong emotions in targeted consumers, like curing cancer, alleviating poverty, feeding the hungry, helping the environment or saving helpless animals. The relationship avails the company of a more effective way to grab the attention of their audience, by telling them compelling stories linked to the cause, for example tales of survival, loss, strength, good works, etc. Once the company gets your attention, it links its name and brands to the positive emotions generates by the cause. The company then leverages that emotion to get you to buy the stuff they’ve linked to the cause — and improve its corporate image.

Cause marketing works, which is why its use is spreading like wildfire. The operative word that the whole idea turns on is “emotion,” because the ability to manipulate people depends completely on generating an emotional connection that the company can exploit.

Emotional Exploitation and Public Policy

Entire industries exploit emotions not just to sell goods, but also to influence public policy. Tobacco industry documents provide an excellent example:

In 1998, California’s Proposition 10, a measure to raise cigarette taxes, made it onto the ballot was headed for a statewide vote. Naturally, the tobacco industry opposed it.

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Wilkerson: Tyranny & Politics of Fear

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An exclusive interview with Colonel Larry Wilkerson on the tyrannical presidency and politics of fear

‘Land Rush’ as Threats to Food Security Intensify

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Biofuels policies and the 2008 financial and food crisis ignited  

a worldwide ‘land rush’ that’s increasing world hunger without addressing the underlying long term threats to world food security

“The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands….People cannot believe what is happening. Thousands of people will be affected and people will go hungry.”

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

The Institute of Science in Society April 28, 2010

Grabbing the world’s ‘unused land’

In the past three years, foreign governments and investment companies have been buying or leasing vast tracts of farmland in Africa and elsewhere for producing biofuels or food for their own use [1].

This ‘land rush’ was triggered by the demand for biofuels, and accelerated [2] with the financial and food crisis of 2007/8 (see [3] Financing World Hunger, SiS 46).

Government policies promoting biofuels are based on the mistaken belief that fuels made from plants are ‘carbon neutral’, in that burning them would simply release the carbon dioxide fixed by photosynthesis and would not increase greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The European Union is aiming for10 percent of its transport on biofuels by 2020 [4] (Europe Unveils 2020 Plan for Reducing C Emissions, SiS 37). George W. Bush, for his part, proposed to cure the US’ “addiction to oil” by increasing federal budget 22 percent for research into clean fuel technologies including biofuels to substitutes for oil to power the country’s cars [5] (Biofuels for Oil Addicts, SiS 30). The hope is to replace more than 70 percent of oil imports from “unstable parts of the world” – the Middle East – by 2025.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation helpfully identified immense areas of ‘spare land’ in developing countries that could be used for planting ‘bio-energy’ crops to be turned into biofuels. The World Bank’s recent report on the 2008 commodities price hike includes a diagram entitled [6] “The stock of unused but potentially arable land is enormous”, depicting more than 700 million hectares of ‘unused’ land in sub-Saharan Africa, and more than 800 m ha in Latin America and  the Caribbean.

Corporate farming for the rich

International agribusinesses, investment banks, hedge funds, commodity traders, sovereign wealth funds, UK pension funds, foundations and ‘individuals have been snapping up some of the world’s cheapest land, in Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, Congo, Zambia, Uganda, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana and elsewhere. Ethiopia alone has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since 2007. Any land investors can’t buy is leased for about $1 per year per hectare. In many cases, the contracts have led to evictions, civil unrest and complaints of “land grabbing”, John Vidal reports in UK’s Guardian [1].

Nyikaw Ochalla, an indigenous Anuak from the Gambella region of Ethiopia now living in Britain but in regular contact with farmers in his region, told Vidal [1]: “All of the land in the Gambella region is utilised. Each community has and looks after its own territory and the rivers and farmlands within it. It is a myth propagated by the government and investors to say that there is waste land or land that is not utilised in Gambella.

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Obama’s phony banking “reform”

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The Elite at the hub of our financial crisis have established themselves in positions of preeminent wealth and power without actually contributing anything useful to America’s economy.  They make and do nothing,  just taking bites out of what others have produced. Since they have so little stake in our society, it is not surprising that their corrupt system built the bubble and arranged to profit when it collapsed.

The revolving door between Wall Street Banksters and the government meant to regulate them means no real change is likely without a sustained outcry of the American people.

Photo by Rich Tatum

Obama’s phony banking “reform”

Barry Grey 27 April 2010

Debate on the Senate version of the Obama administration’s bank regulatory overhaul is expected to begin shortly. The House of Representatives passed its banking bill last December.

Neither bill does anything to curb the power of the banks or limit their parasitic and socially destructive activities. What the media is calling the “most sweeping overhaul” of the banking system since the Great Depression in reality sanctions the ever greater monopolization of the financial system by a handful of Wall Street giants, imposes no limits on executive pay, and allows the banks and hedge funds to continue gambling on exotic and largely unregulated securities such as collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps.

The so-called bank “reform” is an exercise in mass deception—an attempt to placate popular hostility to the banks and provide the government with political cover while it continues to do the bidding of Wall Street.

The bills have been drawn up in the closest consultation with bankers and bank lobbyists. This collusion has been widely reported in the press and presented as a perfectly normal and acceptable fact of political life. The front-page lead article in Monday’s Wall Street Journal describes the intensive lobbying being carried out by billionaire investor Warren Buffet to alter the Senate bill’s provisions on derivatives.

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